Five to Eight

We need to understand where and how at-risk children are admitted into special education. We need to know who decides and by what criteria. What are the danger spots. With this sort of information we can begin to control misidentifications through school leadership.

The transition between five and eight years is the “wait to fail” period.
Developmentally disabled children move onto the solid ground of non-clinical educational instruction. Gradually learning begins to break down. Some children are retained in the current grade. Boys lag behind. It is hard to tell much in the first grade so heavy concern is not voiced until grade 2. The fairly exotic labels used in preschool begin to be less useful. “Progress in the general curriculum” (IDEA 2004) is the litmus test for how many disabled children actually learn.

Typically deficits of literacy development begin to replace speech problems. The school psychologist is called in for formal testing, if the child can perform on standardized tests. If not, further delay occurs.

When the psychometric data come in, they point to learning problems. IEP teams include a regular classroom teacher, a special education teacher, and other specialists. The focus is on poor learning rather than on disability categories. The medical diagnosis has faded away. The learning disability category fits what is really happening to the child.

Unfortunately, it fits many types of non-disabled children who are breaking down in learning. Migrant children, for example, simply do not get enough time in one school. Bilingual children are trying to learn using faulty English. Children with behavioral problems do not pay attention. Boys are just a little slower linguistically. Defiant children are hard to teach. Culturally different children speak dialects of English and are hard to understand. This is the “difficult to teach” population of children who tend to be placed in special education (Jim Wright).

The case for RTI has some merit. Intervene prior to special education and let the children sort themselves out as to learning aptitude. (“RtI was developed starting in the late 1970s by numerous researchers seeking a method of identifying learning disabilities that avoids the problems of the discrepancy model. Unlike the discrepancy model, RtI allows for early and intensive interventions in the regular education setting based on a student’s learning characteristics before any referral to special education. The benefit of RtI, according to the Council for Exceptional Children, is that children do not have to “wait to fail” before they receive help” (OLR).

The period between five and eight years is where misidentification can run amok. All three types of misidentification are on display:

“Under-identification — that is, failing to identify children who have disabilities and need special education to succeed in school;

Over-identification — that is, classifying students with disabilities they do not have; and

Late identification — that is, delaying identification of students with disabilities until later in their schooling when special education services may be less effective” (Congress Report).

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